CHAPEL HILL — Carol Folt, the newly named chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, beamed excitement to a packed reception on campus Friday.
Its the honor of a lifetime, she said. I just cant tell you how it feels. Its a little bit of a dream state.
The first woman chosen to lead the university quickly won over a crowd eager to cheer about something.
An environmental scientist with a 30-year career at the private Dartmouth College, including nearly a year as interim president, Folt showed both confidence and humility. She bubbled with enthusiasm and assured the Carolina faithful that good days are ahead.
She talked about perspective, optimism and opportunity. Thats what will carry us through the tough times, she said.
She even poked fun at herself. When a riser was placed before the lectern to elevate her frame just over 5 feet she joked, You will get used to the box.
Earlier, Folt addressed the UNC Board of Governors after being elected to lead the nations first public university to open its doors.
I am sure that were going to work together to provide an education equal to any education in the world, she said. Im sure that were going to work together to make sure that our students dont simply learn what we know but they learn how to create what will be. And that will be used by the state of North Carolina, the nation and indeed the world for the future.
UNC President Tom Ross said he is convinced Folt has the right mix of experience, expertise, skills and passion to be a truly great chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Ross said he wanted someone with a commitment to liberal arts, affordability in public higher education and someone with unwavering integrity and to always stand for what is right. Ross said he knew she was the right person for the job when he asked her what she liked most about Dartmouth, and she replied, the students.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Folt, 61, is from a second-generation Albanian immigrant family. She said her grandparents never could have imagined the day she had Friday.
Educated at public universities in California, Folt said she had been drawn back to the public sphere and that she is committed to the transparency it requires.
She will begin the job July 1 at an annual salary of $520,000, succeeding Holden Thorp, who will become provost at Washington University in St. Louis.
Tar Heel fever
Folt said she had been on a tour of the Carolina campus in bloom. She and her husband, biology professor David Peart, caught Tar Heel fever when they attended the Duke-UNC basketball game in the Smith Center last month, she said.
On Saturday, she will visit a campus science festival and meet with the alumni association and student journalists. Then, shell attend the spring football game at Kenan Stadium.
Former Chancellor James Moeser was in the crowd at the afternoon reception with lemonade and Tar Heel-shaped cookies. He said he couldnt be more pleased with the choice.
She exudes warmth, he said. I think this place will embrace her.
Female role model
Moeser said Folt will be a role model for female students, who make up 58 percent of the student body.
Anna Meade, a first-year student from Charlotte, agreed. As a woman, its encouraging to have a woman authority figure, she said.
Others were happy about having a leader from outside, to help the campus overcome problems stemming from scandals in athletics, academic fraud and fundraising, as well as current investigations about the handling of sexual assault cases.
Its important that shes an external appointment, said Dennis Mumby, professor in communication studies. It sends a signal that were interested in addressing these issues. She personally sends a signal that were open to diversity. She should bring a fresh perspective.
Folt downplayed the differences between a large, public research university and a small, private liberal arts college, pointing out that most universities are dealing with similar issues. She said she had a lot of listening and learning to do in the beginning.
Ross said the people he talked to at Dartmouth said they often turned to Folt when there was a problem to solve.
During her time as provost, she led a strategic plan and dealt with a $100 million budget deficit. That experience could be key as UNC-CH braces for another round of cuts in state funding.
But for now, the spirit in Chapel Hill is celebratory and the mood is anything but blue.
In hearing our new leader talking, I really felt like I heard her embrace the essence of Carolina and who we are, said Taffye Benson Clayton, vice provost for diversity and multicultural affairs and chief diversity officer. It feels to me like we got a capable leader and a real person. Shes just so natural and real.